There was a huge, unannounced surprise at the Queer Horror panel on Friday evening in Room 28DE. Joining moderator Sean Abley (Fangoria’s Gay of the Dead) and filmmakers Michael Varrati (Tales of Poe), Guinevere Turner (American Psycho), J.T. Seaton (George: A Zombie Intervention), Tim Sullivan (2001 Maniacs) and Jeffrey Riddick (Final Destination) was none other than Bryan Fuller, creator of Dead Like Me, Pushing Daisies, Wonderfalls and Hannibal. His presence added some heavyweight input into the discussions during the panel.
It was an ambitious list of topics on the panel description, so there was time to only scratch the surface of some compelling questions. Authors, filmmakers and comics creators are always looking for new twists to their mediums, including presenting LGBT subtext, plot elements and characters, but:
Does a gay horror genre exist? If so, what makes it different from mainstream horror?
Do gay horror creators bring a different sensibility to the medium?
Has the current surge of LGBT acceptance and civil rights influenced the horror genre?
After introductions, Abley stared the panel by saying, “There are several theories about why horror is germane to being gay or vice versa. Some think that it’s not. It usually starts in childhood…” He asked each participant to identify their childhood relationships with horror. The majority shared some variation of feeling, perhaps subconsciously, like an outsider and identifying with monsters or creatures who were also outsiders. (An interesting distinction was made that it was the Frankensteins,werewolves, etc. they identified with, not the Freddies, Jasons, etc.)
Next, Abley commented that in 2006, it looked like there was going to be a boom in “full-on” gay horror with movies like Hellbent being made and released. But he wonders what happened four or five years later that it just disappeared. Is it important that we have gay horror films or is it good enough now that we’re making our way into mainstream horror, not just as the first character to be killed?
Sullivan said that to him there are a lot of queer movies that aren’t called that. “The Lost Boys. Anything James Whale did. Freddy 2… I mean if that’s not queer I don’t know what is. ‘Freddy, I want you inside me’?!?” Growing up, he always found what he needed in the subtext of these movies. (“What exactly was the relationship between Chris Sarandon and his roommate” in Fright Night?)
Abley then asked with marriage equality looking like it may soon be a non-issue and the “otherness” of being gay going away, do we need queer horror so we have a genre for ourselves or we satisfied with being represented equally? Varrati quickly responded, “I think we have to remember that even though we’re older now and things have changed, there are still gay kids killing themselves all the time and adults who still haven’t come out until their forties and fifties, so homophobia is still very much alive.”
There was a lengthy conversation about the movie Cruising with Al Pacino and whether it is a horror film, much less a queer horror film. Everyone agreed that it is horror since it is about a serial killer targeting a specific demographic (gay men). However, there were varying opinions on whether the film is any good today, or just a curious time capsule for a very specific era. I believe it was Sullivan who said that he finds a lot of joy in Cruising because it was pre-AIDS and represents a time when gay men were happy and carefree.
I flubbed a question I wanted to ask the panel, probably because at the time, I hadn’t really formulated it into a question: it was more a comment. But I wanted to know the difference between a show like Penny Dreadful that will have a scene with Josh Hartnett and Reeve Carney making out that is integral to the story, versus a show like True Blood where Ryan Kwanten will have a dream about having sex with Eric Northman and it has absolutely nothing to do with the story. Fuller asked me if I was talking about “gay baiting”?
I guess I was. And that’s where the conversation went, even though I never got a clear idea if the panel thought it was a good or bad thing for queer horror. TV shows do it all the time. Teen Wolf is a prime example with its parade of scantily-clad hot boys. This raised more questions for me. Why is that “gay baiting”? Isn’t it equally “teenage-MTV-girl baiting”?
I believe that’s a valid question, because the conversation then went to the phenomenon of slash fiction, where fans write stories about straight male characters having romantic and/or sexual relationships. The kicker, though, is that these stories are written mostly by women for women. What does that tell us about sexuality, gay or straight? (I’m not sure.)
There just wasn’t enough time in one hour to dig deeper into these questions. I would have enjoyed a sit-down with the panel, over cocktails, of course, to talk about it more. In the meantime, I think I’ll check purchase Abley’s book, “Out in the Dark”, which includes interviews with gay filmmakers about queer horror. Let us know if that’s something you’d be interested in reading more about.